Text by Mike Wade
When someone who makes his living in the technology industry suggests that we should spend less time looking at screens of our electronic devices, it certainly gets your attention. “Too often, we are victims of our own technology and aren’t ‘unplugging’ so we can have more real-world connections,” says Henry Bass, president and owner of Automation Creations, Inc. (ACI), a Blacksburg-based company specializing in custom software solutions for technology-driven companies worldwide.
“When my wife and I were in Germany for the Army, fresh out of college, the commander advised us to get out and tour the country at least every other weekend,” recalls Bass. “Pick a place and go there. The same is true here – every spot has a story.” Bass has incorporated that same idea into his business, and it appears to be paying off. Many of his team members have been with ACI more than 10 years. “The approach at Automation Creations is to provide great benefits and a flexible 40-hour work schedule so employees can grow their families, enjoy our surroundings and balance a wide variety of work projects and diverse recreational opportunities.”
The New River Valley has been the backdrop for much of Henry Bass’ own story. A son of two IBM employees, he came here to pursue a masters degree in mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech after serving three years in the U.S. Army. In 1996, Bass started ACI in the Corporate Research Center developing software and web applications for commercial and government entities. Several projects have achieved success on an international level.
While he could potentially find more lucrative deals in Silicon Valley or other larger tech-based communities, Bass is proud to call southwest Virginia home. “Our company and our family love being in this region!” he declares. “For me, it has the right amount of infrastructure without being too busy or crowded. Of course, it’s wonderful having Virginia Tech, Radford University and New River Community College within 10 miles, and it’s not too hard to get to the Roanoke Airport, Greensboro or even Charlotte.”
According to Bass, ACI’s team of software developers, designers and trainers not only build software but also design and host websites for hundreds of businesses in the New River Valley. “Our best customers are small businesses that we can meet one-on-one to discuss ways to automate their process,” explains Bass. “Maybe they have an idea for a mobile app or need to synchronize their inventory across multiple store locations plus web sales.”
“We spend a fair amount of time helping connect software that is already written, customizing it for our customers and helping them avoid reinventing things that are out there and tested,” he continues. “When we do write custom software, we price it based on a thorough estimate of the time required, and we involve our customers in the design process.” ACI’s project credits include everything from the mobile app for Blacksburg Transit to matweb.com, a website that features a searchable database of material properties geared toward engineers. The company also works with several Fortune 1000 companies.
Now entering its third decade, ACI continues to grow and evolve. Last year, the firm completed a merger with Interactive Design and Development (IDD). “Bringing Mary Miller, Ph.D., and her employees into the ACI family has been a very successful partnership,” Bass says. “They’re doing some fantastic work for the Smithsonian and its traveling exhibits. We now have a great cloud-based kiosk system that IDD built which gives our clients a way to tell their story from interactive touch-screens.”
Bass went on to say that he believes the New River Valley is ideal for technology-based businesses and that particular sector could see tremendous growth if startups become more aware of all the New River Valley region has to offer. “The internet infrastructure of the Corporate Research Center, combined with tech-friendly leases and continuous efforts to encourage networking, contributes to making this area a fantastic opportunity for developing almost any technology-based business,” he adds. “This is certainly a banking-friendly community, and I believe there’s a growing base of investors who are interested in businesses willing to stay here.”
“The challenge we face is encouraging people to get plugged into our community,” continues Bass. “Whether it is college students or relocated families – many people simply aren’t aware of all the great organizations, opportunities and resources in the New River Valley.”
• As an Army Reserve logistics officer, Bass was deployed as part of Operation
Iraqi Freedom in 2008, earning a Bronze Star and promotion to Lieutenant
• In addition to his masters degree from Virginia Tech, Bass holds an
engineering degree and MBA from Washington University [St. Louis], as well
as professional certifications in software development and systems engineering.
• Bass serves on the Board of Directors for the Roanoke-Blacksburg
Technology Council and the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce.
He was recently appointed to the Montgomery County Educational
Foundation and serves as the moderator for two business leadership forums
with LX Council.
• He is co-founder of the New River Robotics Association, where he helps
coach the “Tuxedo Pandas” competitive robotics team. Bass’ team is the only
Virginia team to qualify for the World Championships more than twice,
and the group is currently working on its fifth consecutive bid for FIRST Tech
Challenge World Competition.
• Bass and his wife, Lisa, have been married for 27 years and have two sons,
both of whom attend Virginia Tech.
Recommended Reading- from Henry Bass
The Girls of Atomic City
by Denise Kiernan
“Loaned to me by Ed Lawhorn ~ very insightful into the Manhattan Project, women’s roles in World War II and the culture that grew from building a secret town completely from scratch – less than 250 miles down I-81 from here.”
Decisive by Chip and Dan Heath
“Excellent decision-making and problem framing techniques ~ I recommend it highly!”
Mike Wade is a lifelong resident of the New River Valley. He has worked as both a journalist and public relations professional for more than 20 years. He freelances as a writer, graphic designer and portrait artist.